Being Rick Astley in a post-Rickrolling world

Christopher Hooton
Thursday 11 August 2016 15:59
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Despite having solved the Münchhausen trilemma a couple of years back, ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ remains Rick Astley’s legacy and always will.

That said, as memes go in this hyper fast world of disposable content, Rickrolling is so retro it’s pretty much internet vintage, resigned to the history wikias alongside ‘Charlie bit my finger’ and that panda sneezing.

Not only has it long since stopped being your ‘hilarious’ work friend’s go-to prank, it’s fading from the day-to-day life of the man himself.

“Of course it has [died down],” Rick tells me, “like anything like that. But I guess that’s one of the positive things about the internet, nothing is big on there forever, it is very current, that’s just the nature of it. Something is a huge deal for a day then something else is a huge deal the next day.”

It would be easy to resent having your entire discography pushed to one side in almost every conversation in favour of a novelty hit, especially one you made no money off (YouTube famously paid him $12 in royalties for the 230,000,000 hits his music video brought in). I ask Rick if he’s happy to see the back of Rickrolling.

“Not really, I just see the whole thing as a positive,” he says. “Most artists would be jumping up and down and going nuts if their song pulled in that many views, and it kind of happened to me without me even asking for it. I just let it get on with it’s thing.”

This is key. A lot of people would have actively encouraged the meme (hell, there’s a convincing theory that Drake chooses his artworks with memes in mind). It would have been all surprise Rickrolls on live TV and adverts for car insurance. Just imagine what would have happened if James Corden had gotten near him.

Rick Astley in the most fire jacket I've ever seen, sometime in the 80s

Rick though, despite the aforementioned lack of direct profit from the meme (indirect profit obviously sizeable) has wisely shown restraint.

“I’ve done one or two things that I’ve been offered but I’ve not really been feeding it. I know too much would just signal its end.”

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“It’s a young person’s thing,” he told the LA Times in 2008, saying that if he put out a remix of ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ it would be “almost a bit sad”.

Rickrolling might be dying down, but Astley is just pleased that it’s probably turned a few unsuspecting victims onto other tracks.

“Your generation likes coming across stuff and not even knowing if the person is dead or not even caring,” he tells me, “they’re just liking what they’re hearing or seeing - it’s kind of amazing.

“It’s not about ‘this band is cool because people have told me’, it’s ‘I heard this thing because it was next on the playlist’, and it might be early Depeche Mode from 1989. It’s nice that people can get into it that way, it’s music in it’s purest form.”

Rick put out a new album called 50 this year (a kind of nod to Adele’s album naming strategy) and has been touring it around the UK, several of the dates being sold out. Obviously, he is expected to play the song, but he takes this in his stride.

“Of course that’s what people want, I’m the same. If you see ELO you’re going to want to get ‘Mr Blue Sky’.

"I don’t have an issue with it, you know, who am I trying to kid? It’s just nice to be remembered and have a few songs that people really enjoy and come out to see.”

Be that as it may, the spectre of Rickrolling does still haunt him at the odd show.

“It happens every now and again,” he recalls, “I was doing a gig a few years back and there were four or five young guys that really ruffled me, they were singing along to the song and I’m thinking ‘are they taking the piss?’ ‘Have they spent money to take the piss?’ So I stopped the band, I’m like ‘I’m not having this’, and I said to them in the middle of the set, ‘What are you doing here? What are you actually doing here? Was it your mum’s tickets you’ve got? What are you doing?’

“In the end I dragged them onto the stage and they danced and sang. At the end they shook my hand and said they actually did really like the song.”

Rick Astley’s 50 is out now.

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